NCAA passes on unveiling weekly basketball bracket/ranking — for now

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Your first look at the official bracket will come, as always, on Selection Sunday. (USATSI)

College basketball fans seeking an earlier look this season at the official bracket from the NCAA men’s basketball selection committee — a la the College Football Playoff model — will still have to wait until Selection Sunday.

Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice president for the men’s basketball championships, told CBSSports.com on Tuesday the NCAA men’s basketball committee recently opted, at a Washington, D.C. NCAA convention, against holding a TV show that would unveil an official, up-to-the-minute look at the bracket and/or an overall rankings system.

“Ultimately some folks will agree with this, and others will disagree, but the surprise of Selection Sunday is one of the things that makes March Madness special,” Gavitt said. “Peeking at the presents under the Christmas tree was not something this committee was anxious to offer up at this point.”

This news comes in the wake of college football’s first season with the College Football Playoff. The CFP was accompanied in the final six weeks of college football’s regular season by a Tuesday night made-for-TV special that listed the top 25 teams per that event’s official selection committee. The decision to put up a week-by-week TV listing of teams had its critics and its proponents alike.

The biggest criticism of the decision came when TCU, which was ranked third in the penultimate broadcast/rankings system, fell all the way to sixth — and out of the Playoff entirely — just one week later despite winning its final game against Iowa State, 55-3.

For at least this year, college basketball will not be going down that path.

“I think all along the committee was just always doing its due diligence to monitor what the college football playoff was doing, and we’ll continue to do that,” Gavitt said. “There was never movement one way or the other to do something in terms of ranking on a weekly or even a more limited basis. But since college football hadn’t gone through an entire season, it was an experience to look back upon and have a healthy discussion to look back on in January.”

Gavitt stressed that the NCAA is still mulling ways to make college basketball more vital, engaging and attention-grabbing prior to March. Discussions about having a similar TV program will be addressed again come next season, most likely, and again the men’s basketball committee will vote on whether or not to do that. This year’s committee is chaired by Utah State athletic director Scott Barnes. Next year’s committee will be led by current Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione, who is in his fourth year on the committee.

The decision is something of a surprise considering the TV networks that were interested. But Gavitt said no formal proposals were made, but if discussions happened years down the road, they would start with “CBS and Turner in mind.”

So why isn’t this happening? Two reasons, really. One, the NCAA monitored reaction to the CFP’s experiment, and saw that it wasn’t a universal success. But more importantly, college basketball is run very differently from college football; the cycles of each sport aren’t comparable.

“Because games are played once a week, and essentially on the weekends, the rhythm of a weekly ranking is much more tradition-bound in college football than it is in college basketball,” Gavitt said. “In basketball, polls come out Monday morning and they can be outdated by Monday [night]. The frequency of games, the number of days, the fluidity there creates challenges around doing a show on a regular basis.”

Plus, whereas college football is selecting four teams, college basketball includes 68, and in reality there are a pool of about 90 hopefuls even as late as early February.

Is this just a one-year staving off of the inevitable? Perhaps, but Gavitt did add: “There was interest to consider something less than a weekly effort, and I think the committee will continue to monitor this and discuss it. I think this decision is for this year. I think the majority feels this way in general, but we’ll continue to monitor.”

CBS and Turner’s rights for the NCAA Tournament expire in 2023-24. If a television show and/or early bracket/rankings system were to be part of a new deal, renegotiations on said deal are still years away.

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